There’s something deeply satisfying about building something with your own two hands—and that’s exactly what woodworkers get to do on a daily basis. Whether you create furniture, like chairs, tables, and cabinets, or intricate objects like instruments, woodworkers get to transform raw materials into beautiful and functional works of art.
As a career, woodworking is challenging but rewarding. Even years into a career as a woodworker, there will always be different types of woods, techniques, and projects to experiment with. Interested in pursuing woodworking as a career? Learn how to become a woodworker in the guide below.
What Is Woodworking?
Woodworking is the art of creating objects out of wood using hand or power tools. This encompasses both functional pieces, like furniture and cabinetry, and decorative objects, like wall art, moldings, and appliques.
What Is a Woodworker?
What is a woodworker? As the name suggests, a woodworker is a craftsman who uses woodworking techniques to create wooden objects. While this may seem similar to carpentry, the two roles aren’t the same. The difference between a woodworker and a carpenter is that carpenters generally work on construction sites, cutting and joining pieces of wood to create buildings and other structures. Carpenters may also install the wood products that woodworkers make, such as cabinetry or furniture.
Woodworkers are also different from woodcarvers. While woodworkers focus on joining pieces of wood together to create objects, woodcarvers typically use chisels to shape pieces of wood into sculptures or figurines.
What Does a Woodworker Do?
Woodworker job descriptions can vary widely from role to role. In most capacities, woodworkers begin by reviewing and analyzing architectural or shop drawings, blueprints, or schematics. Based on the idea for the object, the woodworker will determine the materials and equipment needed to complete the project. For some projects, they will use electric saws, sanding machines, drilling machines, and cutting tools. For others, they will use hand tools like mallets, hammers, chisels, and knives. And for some, they will use a combination of both.
As part of a woodworker job description, the craftsman is typically in charge of preparing machinery and tools, and then using those tools to cut, sand, and shape each piece of the product. Once all pieces have been created, they use fasteners, such as glue or nails, to assemble the product based on the drawings or blueprints. Finally, they finish the piece with a variety of sanding, staining, and sealing techniques.
A woodworker may be self-employed or work for a company. In some high-production facilities, woodworkers work in an assembly line, focusing on just one element of production. However, in smaller shops that specialize in custom projects, woodworkers may be responsible for the entire production of a piece from start to finish.
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How to Become a Woodworker
Learning the craft of woodworking requires hands-on experience with raw materials, tools, and machinery, as well as practical knowledge of how to interpret plans and measurements and translate them to a finished product. Whether you pursue a degree in woodworking, immerse yourself in a craft school workshop, or learn from experienced woodworkers as an apprentice, there are many paths to becoming a woodworker.
Education Requirements and Common Degrees
In general, an art degree isn’t a requirement to become a woodworker. While most woodworkers have at least a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most woodworking shops don’t require a college degree.
However, that doesn’t completely rule out the usefulness of a college or university education. These programs can provide a solid foundation for and introduction to the basics of woodworking, as well as offer the tools and space required to practice your woodworking skills—which could otherwise be difficult to acquire on your own. If you do pursue this path, there are several different types of degrees you can earn, from an Associate in Occupational Studies in furniture design to a Bachelor or Master of Fine Arts.
There are also schools specific to woodworking. For example, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, provides classes focused on wood craftsmanship and design. Whether you opt for a one- or two-week workshop or an immersive 12-week intensive, this type of school offers expert-level classes in a completely woodworking-focused environment.
Experience in Place of a Degree
While formal education programs can be beneficial, especially for those who are just starting on their woodworking journey, many craftsmen—and the shops that employ them—prefer real-world experience in place of an art degree.
How do you get that experience? As a beginner, it can be as simple as learning from online courses and tutorials (making sure, of course, that you follow the correct safety precautions when learning to use electric saws and tools). British woodworker Paul Sellers, for example, has a YouTube channel that’s an ideal place for beginners and hobbyists to start.
You may also be able to find an apprenticeship with a local woodworker or shop. In this environment, you can gain invaluable hands-on experience, learn how to use machinery and equipment, and refine your own skills. Ultimately, this can help you build your experience and portfolio and equip you to find full-time employment—or launch your own independent business.
Average Woodworker Salary
How much does a woodworker make? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median woodworker salary is just over $33,000 per year. Other sources report average salaries between $39,000 and $59,000. Ultimately, your compensation will vary depending on the type of work you produce and your level of expertise.
Types of Woodworker Jobs
As a woodworker, you can choose the type of work environment that best suits you, whether you prefer to work on a freelance basis or as part of a team in a large manufacturing facility. Below, explore some of the most common types of woodworker jobs available.
Many woodworkers work for themselves as independent contractors. This means that instead of working as an employee for a furniture shop, clients can commission work from you on a freelance basis. You might, for example, open an online storefront on a platform like Etsy. Or, you could build relationships with contractors or interior designers to provide them with custom pieces for their clients.
To build a career as an independent or freelance woodworker, it’s critical to build your reputation and portfolio to attract potential customers. Make sure to take quality pictures of your work and consider maintaining a website or social media platforms to showcase them.
Factory or Manufacturing Facility
Some woodworkers are employed in a factory setting, where they help produce a large volume of furniture or cabinetry. As a worker in this setting, you may not create a piece of furniture from start to finish; instead, you may work on just one element or step in the process, such as sanding or working a particular machine.
As a furniture shop woodworker, you could be responsible for building a variety of different pieces of furniture, including tables, chairs, bookshelves, and vanities. However, you may not only build new furniture; you may also work to restore antique wooden furniture. To do this, you must have knowledge of how historical furniture was constructed and understand restoration and preservation techniques.
Some woodworkers specialize in cabinetry for both new homes and home renovations. In this role, you would work closely with architects and contractors to review specifications and blueprints and build cabinets according to those plans.
Build Your Woodworking Career
Woodworking strikes the ideal balance between form and function. Woodworkers get to use their creativity to visualize and interpret ideas, but they must also be able to measure and produce wood elements to exact specifications. Ultimately, when they apply those skills, they get the satisfaction of knowing that the things they build will be enjoyed on a daily basis for years and years to come.
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